FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The last two times the media saw the New England Patriots practice -- the final organized team activities session a week ago and Tuesday's first day of mandatory minicamp -- there were only two quarterbacks taking reps on the field.

With fourth-year veteran backup Ryan Mallett missing workouts due to an undisclosed reason, Tom Brady is left running the first team and rookie second-round pick Jimmy Garoppolo is receiving more than his share of chances throughout drills and backup action.

The youngster out of Eastern Illinois eventually may take over for the 15-year veteran Brady, but that is in the future. Right now, Garoppolo is simply trying to learn the New England offense and get his feet wet as a professional.

That means all the extra practice reps this spring that normally might have gone to Mallett are more than welcome. In the first day of minicamp work Tuesday, Garoppolo threw a nice deep ball to rookie receiver Jeremy Johnson to beat solid coverage, one of the rookie's best tosses during his short time with the Patriots.

"It was a good read," he said with a chuckle, suggesting that he was satisfied with the play. "It's just one of those things that you see the safeties rotate and you get your eyes in the right place and you have to have efficient eyes, and I did that on that play."

Other times he was forced to pull the ball down and throw it into the ground, Payton Manning-style, under pressure or throw wildly to a spot where he apparently thought the intended receiver would be. It clearly is a growing process at this point for a guy coming from the Football Championship Subdivision level trying to get up to speed quickly with what is one of the NFL's more complex offenses.

"I don't even know if you can compare the two. ... It's night and day," he said when asked about the differences between offseason work at Eastern Illinois and with the Patriots. "We come out here, it's gorgeous out here, had a great day of practice. What else would you rather be doing?"

While Garoppolo clearly is taking advantage of Mallett's missed time, he is also leaning on both the veteran backup and the veteran starter as he tries to get a handle on the playbook. In addition, he is learning how offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels handles his pupils.

"Brady and Mallett are two guys who have been doing this for a while, and they know the offense very well," Garoppolo said. "They've helped me a tremendous amount. Them and Josh and offensive assistant Jerry (Schuplinski) have done a tremendous job helping me.

"Josh is just like me, an energetic guy. He loves the offense, loves football, and we go out there and have a great time every day."

For at least a couple of days, Garoppolo was the No. 2 quarterback in practice. At times he looked like a polished, accurate, athletic young passer. Other times he looked less than stellar. He is a work in the very early stages of progress.

He knows that, which is why he is not all that interested in addressing the talk of him being the heir to Brady's job.

"It's just one of those things, you can't really focus on it," he said. "If you're focusing on that, you're focusing on the wrong things. My main focus was on coming out here, being very consistent, day in and day out. It's a grind, and you have to come out here and do well each and every day."

And that is an answer that would probably make coach Bill Belichick, McDaniels and even Brady proud.